Observations

Reality has a surprising amount of detail (and so does audio)

John Salvatier has written a very interesting essay. It’s not short but I think it is well worth the time it will take you to read it.

The parallels to records should be clear to anyone who has spent much time on this blog. Those of us who have run record experiments by the thousands have learned to accept that identical looking LPs can vary dramatically in their sound quality. Even two sides of a single record are often very different sounding.

 

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Paraphrasing Hayek – Our Curious Task

F. A. Hayek summarized his view succinctly when he noted that “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Our curious task has been to demonstrate to audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them how mistaken they are to believe that they can understand the sound of a recording by playing a single pressing of it.

Similarly, the modern mastering engineer operates under the pretense that he can design and operate a cutting system that produces consistently superior sounding records to those made in the past. Based on the hundreds of the modern records we have played, this is clearly a case of over-promising and under-delivering.

These assumptions, and the half-baked knowledge that flows from them, are clearly unsupportable. The scores of commentaries we have written on both subjects provide all the evidence required to falsify them, and, with some effort, can be found among the 5000 postings on this blog.

The Hot Stamper pressings we sell, so much bigger, livelier, and more engaging than anything produced by these so-called audiophile mastering houses, are simply the physical evidence of our deeper and more correct understanding of records and their manifestly mysterious properties.

FURTHER READING

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Thoughts on Classical Music and My Hot Stamper Collection

Dear Tom

So what I can’t get out of my mind, you have been doing this all these years, your own personal collection must be the creme de la creme. Cannot even imagine. But sure would love to hear!

Chuck

Dear Chuck,

I’ve had an extensive record collection for all of my life, right up until about fifteen years ago. Starting at the tender young age of 10, I bought the 45 of She Loves You on Swan records, which I still own. Can’t play it, it’s broken, but I keep it anyway. When I was a kid, I used to take my two dollar weekly allowance and buy two 45s with it. Did that for years. Still have them, close to two hundred in old carrying cases. I look forward to playing them in my retirement.

I had hundreds of amazing sounding LPs in my collection, the best of the best from more than 20 years of doing shootouts. About fifteen years ago I asked myself what were all these great sounding records sitting on a shelf for? I never played them because I got to hear all my favorite records every day, and after playing records all day, the last thing I wanted to do at night or on a weekend was pull a record off the shelf and play it.

So I put all my personal records into shootouts, and sometimes they did well and sometimes they did not. (Those of you who go back and play your old records from years past will surely find some real surprises, both good and bad.)

I sit my wife down from time to time when the stereo is at its peak playback quality after doing shootouts all day. I might put on Deja Vu or Back in Black or The Wall or some other amazing pressing we’ve just found, and I always point out to her that this is a record that will be gone next week. This is it, listen to it now because you will not have the chance again for many months, sometimes even years.

Most audiophiles outside of our customers rarely have that experience, but it’s really the only way I listen to music anymore, on the best pressings in the world.

I play mostly classical records these days, which, on the best vintage pressings are really a thrill on big speakers at loud volumes. We had to stop going to the Santa Barbara symphony because the sound was better in my listening room than it was in that hall. Practically all of the performances on vinyl were better too, to tell you the truth. I can’t compete with Disney Hall for sonics, but it takes two hours to get there and good tickets are $300-500 each. It’s tough to make the commitment at those prices, especially when you have spent your entire adult life building a great stereo and room. Suspension of disbelief is immediate and lasting.

The best classical recordings cannot compete with a good orchestra in a good hall, but it has been my experience that those two things in combination are very hard to find in the real world. Fortunately for me, the memory of the music and sound I used to hear at the Disney Hall faded after a few weeks, at which point I could go back to playing my classical records and enjoying the hell out of them.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts I wanted to share with you today.

Best, TP


Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

Another entry in a short series I like to call Observations

I’ve noticed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both myself and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance for mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

We actually do play five or ten copies of every record  because it’s our business, but I sure don’t have the patience to go through all that for my own personal listening the way I used to twenty years ago.

Of course, that’s precisely the process that taught me what I know about records today, and how I learned to find the one with the magic, but it sure would be hard to start all over again at this age (I’m 68).

Tom Port

We Didn’t Know How Good We Had It in the Seventies

ian_matthews_-_stealin_home

Hot Stamper Pressings of Folk Rock Records Available Now

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Stealin’ Home has long been a Folkie-Pop favorite of mine, mostly on the strength of the consistently smart songwriting, polished production and audiophile sound quality.

But really, to be truthful, what I found attractive right from the start was Iain Matthews’s especially clear, sweet tenor — that’s the hook that drew me to the album.

Only later would I be pleasantly surprised to find that the recorded sound was wonderful; that the production was equal to the best major label Rock and Pop around (a comparison to The Doobie Brothers would not be a stretch); and, with repeated listening, it was clear that the level of songwriting was high indeed (an a capella rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, which opens side two, can’t help but raise your averages).

We Didn’t Know How Good We Had It

Produced in 1978, the best copies are rich, smooth and sweet in the best tradition of ANALOG recording. Only a few years later this sound was out of style, replaced by the edgy, hard, digital qualities preferred by synthpop bands like Tears for Fears and Simple Minds.

This would turn out to be a bad time for audiophiles (like me) who liked the pop music of the day but not the pop sound of the day. Heavy-handed processing as well as the overuse of synthesizers and drum effects, with the whole of the production slathered in digital reverb, have resulted in most of the albums from the early to mid-’80s being all but impossible to enjoy on a modern high-end system. Believe me, we’ve tried.

The albums Squeeze was making in the mid- to late-’80s are personal favorites, but the sound is so impenetrable, so overbearing, that nothing can be done with the vinyl.

For some reason, the ’70s, the decade before, seems to get little respect from audiophiles, when in fact a high percentage of the best recordings we know of were made in that arbitrarily designated ten year period. A rough count leads me to think that more than half of our Top 100 Rock Albums were recorded in the years spanning 1970-79, which is very unlikely to be a statistical accident.

The pool of well-recorded albums was simply wider and deeper. Great sounding records like this one were made by the hundreds, their numbers falling off precipitously in the decades that followed.

Fortunately for us Old School Audiophiles, the analog holdouts, we have easy access to the best of the ’70s recordings, still widely available in their original format: the vinyl LP.